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I straggled out of the cold, foggy morning into the cavernous gymnasium and blinked as my eyes adjusted to the buzzing fluorescent lights glaring overhead. Along with the other students, I aimed for the island of athletic mats grouped on the scuffed wooden floor, then arranged myself on a towel to distance myself from the odor of sweat lingering on the maroon plastic.
Dressed in an array of T-shirts and cutoffs with long johns underneath, baggy sweats or the occasional leotard and tights with legwarmers, we took note of each other and of the pretty, blond thirty-something teacher who awaited us. Linda, who preferred to be called “Devi,” sat in a perfect lotus position, an air of serenity around her. She lightly tapped her Tibetan gong, sending a low clear note echoing through the frigid gymnasium.
I was 18, just entering nursing school at the local community college, and needed the morning class to calm my fears before learning to give injections and enemas, to insert tubes into bodily orifices. We started off with deep cleansing breaths, inhaling positive energy and exhaling the negative. “Rock and rolls” followed, as we curled up on our backs like little pill bugs and rolled the kinks out of our spines. We saluted the sun, gracefully dipping and breathing, stretching our lithe bodies as Devi’s soft voice called out the pose. I could easily bend forward with legs straight, head to knees, palms flat on the mat.
As Devi instructed us to go deeper into the stretch, my breath carried away whatever tension I may have acquired at that tender age. No sweating was involved, and most of the strain I experienced was to keep from laughing at the young male students attempting to squat past a deep knee bend while keeping their footing on the slick mat. I knew that comparing our agility wasn’t the righteous yogic thing to do, but I was young and always looking for the fun in life.
We concluded the class either with a relaxation exercise, tensing then releasing each individual body part, or an asana to energize us for the day. One morning we ended with the “woodchopper.” Holding imaginary axes high overhead, we forcefully swung them downward while squatting, making contact with our imaginary log.
A loud ha! accompanied the movements, expelling any remaining tension. As my friend Vicki went down for her third chop, we heard a loud tearing sound, and she quickly stood, red-faced, her pants ripped down the seam. Luckily, her fringed poncho was long enough to cover her mishap, and the ha!’s dissolved into laughter.
Fast-forward three kids, 30-plus years and pounds later, and I find myself heading to a yoga studio for a class, courtesy of a gift certificate. Feeling reasonably fit due to the aerobic classes I have been devoted to for five days a week for years, I know the beginner’s class will be a breeze.
The studio is intimate, with polished bamboo floors and wall lights thoughtfully covered in gauzy lavender fabric to soften the glow. A full wall of cubbies is filled with jewel-toned yoga “props”: green foam blocks, blue wedges and mats, purple blankets, beanbags, bolsters and straps.
The students mosey in, unrolling their mats from hemp shoulder bags, collecting props and greeting the petite, highly toned teacher.
Dressed in an array of yoga apparel made from breathable, organic bamboo jersey with natural antibacterial and deodorized elements, they choose their spots and start to stretch. My worn spandex sticks to me, as does the mat beneath my feet; I can almost hear the suction noise as I position myself.
We start with deep breaths and then are instructed into an asana that sounds foreign to me, due to the teacher’s quiet voice and the Sanskrit name. I crack my eyes, trying to follow along by watching what’s going on around me. “Hold the pose,” we are told. “Tighten your core.”
Very specific instruction regarding each muscle and its corresponding energy path is given as rivulets of perspiration course down my back. I struggle to keep my knees straight while my palms dangle inches off the ground. I have never sweated so much while holding still. My yogic karma has caught up to me as I remember my mirth at those poor, unlimber guys in the gym 30 years before. I stick out the rest of the class, both literally and figuratively, and breathe a deep sigh of relief when it ends. Namaste, indeed.